Radical theology was the name applied in the 1960s to a widely publicized current in American Protestant
theology which was fundamentally skeptical about modern man's ability to speak meaningfully about God. The theologians most prominently identified with the movement were William Hamilton, Paul Van Buren, and Thomas J. J. Altizer. Several other theologians were closely associated with the movement in the popular mind although their works were less radical in character. The British theologian, John A. T. Robinson, and the American theologian, Harvey Cox, shared a good deal of the radical theologians' skepticism and, like the radical theologians, Robinson and Cox advocated a religion of secular involvement rather than a religion of otherworldly salvation. Gabriel Vahanian, although not one of the radical theologians, shared their preoccupation with the challenge of contemporary secularism to Christian faith.
The theological divergencies among the radical theologians were too great for them to form a school. Nevertheless, their works are marked by a number of common convictions. Faith in the transcendent God of traditional Christian theology is no longer possible for the contemporary man. The theologian can no longer work in the church. His concerns are no longer the classical churchly concerns: liturgy, prayer, otherworldly salvation. He must move out into the world, since, like other contemporary men, his fundamental preoccupation is the struggle to maintain human values in the context of modern secular society. He can no longer speak of a God who has become meaningless to contemporary man but he must still speak of Christ. The Christ of the radical theologian, however, is the purely human Christ who is the man for others. Christ's function in contemporary society is to serve as a supremely inspiring human example, Christ is "a place to be" in the struggle for human values.
The shift away from theological activism at the end of the civil–rights struggle brought a decline of interest in radical theology. As a movement it did not survive the sixties, but the issues which it brought to prominence in America, e.g., the knowability of God, contemporary Christology, eschatology, and social activity, continue to occupy the attention of contemporary theologians.
See Also: death of god theology.
Bibliography: t. j. j. altizer, The Gospel of Christian Atheism (Philadelphia 1966); ed., Toward a New Christianity: Readings in the Death of God Theology (New York 1967). t. j. j. altizer and w. hamilton, Radical Theology and the Death of God (Indianapolis 1966). h. cox, The Secular City (New York 1965). w. hamilton, The New Essence of Christianity (New York 1961); "The Death of God Theology," Christian Scholar 48: 27–48; "The Shape of Radical Theology," Christian Century 82:1219–22. j. a.t. robinson, Honest to God (Philadelphia 1963); Exploration into God (Palo Alto, Calif. 1967). g. vahanian, The Death of God (New York 1961); No Other God (New York 1966); ed., The God is Dead Debate (New York 1967). p. van buren, The Secular Meaning of the Gospel (New York 1963); Theological Explorations (New York 1968). l. gilkey, Naming the Whirlwind: The Renewal of God Language (Indianapolis 1969) 107–145. v. mehta, The New Theologians (New York 1966). t. w. ogletree, The Death of God Controversy (Nashville 1966).